Voyager rewatch 6.13 – “Virtuoso”

You’re not gonna believe this, but Voyager rescues some people and they turn out to be jerks? And the Doctor learns an important lesson about ego and fantasy? That sort of thing never happens on this show!

I feel like I’m being pranked.

Just a few weeks ago, we had “Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy”, an episode where the Doctor’s desire for self-actualisation mingles with his ego and creates a problem. And yet here we are, watching “Virtuoso”, an episode where the Doctor’s desire for self-actualisation mingles with his ego and creates a problem.

I know I’ve been complaining about how it feels like Voyager doesn’t have enough ideas to sustain itself in its sixth season, but this feels like a joke at the expense of the audience. We’ve been here, we know how this goes — from Janeway’s initial dismissal of the Doctor’s aspirations to the Doctor’s outrage at what he perceives as a slight against his sentience (because it’s a slight against his sentience). We’re going in circles.

As long as we’re in a state of deja vu, I’m just gonna quickly recap my issues with the Doctor’s character: he’s self-obsessed, makes his personal development everyone else’s problem, doesn’t respect boundaries, and is low-key a creep around women.

For my next trick, I’m gonna say something you might not expect: some of these problems are not evident in “Virtuoso”. His relentless ego here is put in context: he is entitled to recognition for his medical accomplishments because he is simply that good, but he wants recognition for his artistry because it is something he developed and worked at for himself, and proof (for himself, for others) that he is more than software.

And I get that. I love pop music because, for a moment in time, you can occupy a small piece of someone else’s soul. Listening to music is like experiencing emotions I’ve never encountered before. It’s magic. I think the whole “the Doctor absentmindedly starts singing public domain classics” idea is contrived, but if I could sing, I’d probably be making pleasing voice noises all the time.

In short, the Doctor’s situation here is understandable. And as much as he gets carried away with fame, honestly? It makes sense for him. He is, again, very young. He’s only been “alive” for six years. It’s all incredibly predictable and boring, but it’s not out of character.

Janeway, on the other hand, is in character and that’s a problem

Season 6 has not been great for Janeway. She started out torturing a fellow Starfleet officer, and since then has only been popped up to fuck holograms and fall for conspiracy theories. (And she’s all out of holograms.)

Now, Janeway has always struggled with the Doctor’s personhood. Just as he keeps learning and forgetting important lessons about ego, Janeway seems to need regular reminders that the Doctor is a sentient being. Again: we’ve been here already this season. The Doctor wants to stretch his metaphorical and holographic wings, Janeway baulks, awkwardness ensues.

It’s not a good look for her, frankly.

However. Part of the problem here is the script. “Why is everyone being so mean?” I wondered as I watched the Doctor and B’Elanna snipe at each other, and sure enough, it was a Kenneth Biller script. And I think perhaps a different writer, more alive to the nuances of human interaction — Bryan Fuller, maybe, or Lisa Klink — might have matched the tone that Kate Mulgrew was attempting to convey with her performance: that Janeway is not shutting the Doctor down out of a kneejerk reaction against his autonomy, but forcing him to confront his assumptions.

Voyager’s cast deserves better

One of the frustrations of season 6 is that so often, episodes and characters are only held together by the string of an actor’s performance. And with material like this, who can blame Robert Beltran or Garrett Wang for checking out? (I mean, I can. And I will. But I understand that this is not an environment conducive to engagement.)

“Virtuoso” is entirely saved by Robert Picardo’s performance, especially in the scenes where he gets to expose the vulnerability beneath the bluster. Mulgrew adds depth to her scenes which isn’t evident on the page, and Jeri Ryan finds a new note for Seven of Nine: hurt and resentful that the Doctor is proposing to leave Voyager, and lashing out. It’s unpleasant, but understandable, and Seven’s apology — which is not an apology at all, but an expression of affection for the Doctor in the form of a fan letter — is charming.

Anyway, the aliens of the week are assholes, but I feel like there’s something else at work

One of the reasons I don’t care for this episode is that the Qomar make me uncomfortable.

I mean, yes, they’re a culture of mathematical geniuses who somehow didn’t discover music — which seems improbable, but what do I know? It’s a fun conceit! They’re convinced of their superiority in a way which is briefly amusing.

However.

Okay, first of all, the main female Qomar, in whom the Doctor is briefly romantically interested, is named Tincoo, which has powerful “white people writing a Chinese character without learning anything about China written later than the 18th century” vibes. This is probably unintentional, but it got my hackles up.

Second, Kamala Lopez-Dawson plays Tincoo with an odd cadence in her speech. Which would be a clever note for the Qomar, a culture without music — that their speech follows different patterns and rhythms — except that none of the other Qomar do this. And honestly? Watching from the lofty perches of 2024, it kind of feels like a neurotypical person imitating someone with autism.

I’ve worked really hard to forget that the filmĀ Music by Sia exists. I resent being reminded of it.

All that being said, Tincoo is less of a character than an embodiment of fandom as understood by the Voyager writers. Which brings us to…

This is not a flattering portrait of fandom

I mean, this is an episode about fandom, right? There’s a whole scene where Janeway explains fans and fan mail to Seven of Nine. The Qomar get super parasocial with the Doctor, not to mention sexually harassing him.

https://i.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/000/039/730/FMKiM3MXIAMD6Io.jpg

Lots of SFF series with dedicated fanbases allude to their fandoms in stories, and it nearly always goes badly. “Virtuoso” isn’t the worst by a long shot; it’s just interesting that, at a time when UPN is encouraging Voyager to discard its female-dominated fandom in favour of males aged 18-35, the “face” of the Doctor’s fandom is largely female, and the men are … present, but decidedly secondary. I’m not saying Voyager thinks its fans are harpies and beta cucks, but there’s a definite vibe.

More interesting is that fandom literally objectifies the Doctor. Feels like the writers were onto something there. Nice work. And Tincoo, in essentially pirating the Doctor and creating her own version, is transformative in her fandom. It’s probably not intentional, but it’s clever.

Other observations

  • Tuvok, Harry and Chakotay get about line line each, and Tom and Neelix aren’t doing much better
  • In fairness to Janeway, she really doesn’t let anyone have autonomy. The Doctor is all, “If Harry Kim met a nice girl and wanted to leave Voyager, you’d let him go,” and no, Doc. He did, and she did not.
  • I’ll give the Qomar this: they are much better at merch than Paramount.

In conclusion

We’ve seen this episode too many times. Two miniature Doctors out of five.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *